There’s been quite a bit in the news about El Nino – what it is, when it will peak, how it will influence the hurricane season, how it will affect farmers, etc. – and I’ve read a lot of it. While reading about El Nino, I came across a couple of articles about how marine life is actually helping to forecast El Nino. That fascinated me. So, I thought I would share with you what I learned about the El Nino forecast – from both meteorologists and Mother Nature.
WHAT IS EL NINO?
I’m not a meteorologist, and I’m sure the majority of you aren’t either; so I’ll keep this simple. El Nino is a season of unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial portion of the Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon affects the weather all across the United States.
It’s been five years since the last El Nino, and meteorologists are calling for an 80% chance of full development of El Nino by late autumn. The peak should occur during the latter part of 2014 and last through the first few months of 2015. Scientists are unsure of its severity because of a lack of agreement in the computer models, but they believe it should be of moderate strength. Scientists may not be able to be sure of the severity, but it seems Mother Nature is.
MARINE LIFE FORECASTS EL NINO
Ocean temperatures rise considerably during an El Nino, and trade winds are created, which, in turn, create great ocean currents. Subtropical fish get caught in those currents and are brought north sooner in the season. This can also affect the nesting habits of water fowl that feed on that fish. Normally, the migration north occurs in the autumn, but this year it started in the spring!
For example, Yellowfin tuna is normally caught off the coast of southern California in September. This year, fishermen started catching Yellowfin tuna in May. One old salt stated that he has never seen Yellowfin off the coast of San Diego in May in 50 years! Likewise, San Diego fishermen started catching Mahi Mahi the first of June instead of September.
As an interesting side note, during the large El Nino of 1997-1998, Yellowtail (a type of fish) was caught off the coast of Alaska. It normally doesn’t travel farther north than Santa Barbara, California. It was such an oddity that people in Alaska couldn’t identify it!
Whales are making their way further north, as well. A mother Bryde’s whale and her calf was sited in mid June off the coast of California. They normally aren’t found north of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Also, during the first week of June, a large pod of pilot whales was sited off Dana Point in southern California – a sight not seen in 20 years. Finally, false killer whales were sited off the coast of Orange County, California in March.
Brown pelicans are being affected by these changes in marine life migration patterns. Ninety percent of brown pelicans breed and rear their young in the Sea of Cortez. However, the 2014 breeding season has been very poor with sparse numbers in the Sea of Cortez. However, thousands of brown pelicans have shown up in Southern California early in the season, just roosting and eating, without breeding. Their diet consists of sardines and anchovies, which are missing in the Sea of Cortez area but are now plentiful further north. This has caused a large nesting failure.
Sardines and anchovies may be missing from the Sea of Cortez, but that area has early visitors in their place. Blue marlin and sailfish arrived the beginning of June instead of early August.
UPDATE: Upon reading this article, a friend of mine sent me a video of a large school of anchovies filmed off the coast of La Jolla, California, on July 8, 2014 (just two days ago). I was amazed when I saw this river of fish within the ocean! I just had to share this with you.
If El Nino currents are the cause of marine wildlife traveling further north than normal, it would seem that Mother Nature is telling us that El Nino will occur this year – and possibly be rather strong because of how early these currents have begun carrying their travelers north.
HOW EL NINO WILL AFFECT OUR WEATHER
Although all meteorologists are not in full agreement as to the effects El Nino will have on United States weather, I’ve culled the predictions with the most consensus.
- It’s predicted that there will be higher than normal summer temperatures in the United States West, Southwest, and lower mid-west and Texas. (I think South Carolina is getting a bit of that as our temperatures have been in the 90s for most days of the week since mid May!)
- The Canadian border states, from Idaho to Maine, will experience lower than normal summer temperatures.
- The rest of the country will have normal summer temperatures.
- There will probably be quite a few dry spells in some places across the country until El Nino fully develops. (This seems to be true; for the first six months of this year, my garden has received 13 inches of rain less than it did last year for the same time period.)
- There will be an increase in rain in the central plains and western midwest down to Texas and stretching across to the east coast June through August. (I know my friends in Virginia and my family in Rhode Island have all been bemoaning all the rain they’ve been getting.)
- Once El Nino develops in late summer/autumn, there will be heavy rains in California (who needs it!) and in the West and Southwest. The question is, though, how much rain?
- Overall, there’ll be a higher probability of above-average precipitation in the late summer and winter.
- The Pacific will see an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes.
- The Atlantic will see fewer-than-normal hurricanes, with the majority of them forming off the east coast of the U.S. rather than coming across the Atlantic or forming in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico.
- The jet stream will be more “stretched out” because of El Nino. That means shallower troughs and ridges, which affects the flow of weather patterns across the country.
- The winter of 2015 should be milder for most of the U.S. because there will be an increase in global temperatures after El Nino ends in early 2015.
- The Southeast U.S. should see an increase in the probability of a wet winter.
Both man and marine life are forecasting a 2014 El Nino. When will it arrive? When will it peak? How strong will it be? It’ll be interesting to see whose forecast is more accurate – man’s or Mother Nature’s. If man is smart, he’ll be sure to factor in Mother Nature’s forecast with his own instead of relying solely on computer models. No offense to any computer geeks out there, but my money’s on the signs being given by God’s creation. Afterall, they’ve been forecasting the weather for millenia.
P.S. In case anyone was wondering, I took the photo above at my favorite place – Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, RI.